European Design Capitals offers a taste of the history and culture of three of Europe’s most important design centers, each providing links to the history and present practice of industrial design. In each place we visit museums, manufacturers, design studios, and relevant historical and cultural sites. We situate the movements, methods and materials within the historical, cultural and geographic settings from which they emerged.

European Design Capitals: Past & Present (FULL)

Instructor: Mara Holt Skov
May 21-June 11, 2018

Check-in: London, Monday, May 21, 5 p.m.
Checkout: Milan, Monday, June 11, noon

Interested students should contact Mara Holt Skov ( to start the approval process for registration.

Our first week is spent in London, the historic center of the industrial revolution, where we investigate the transportation experience of the London Tube, including wayfinding, train and station design. We visit the London Design Museum, which hosts traveling exhibitions of all types, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of the most important design collections in the world, founded following the Great Exhibition of 1851. Our visit is timed to coincide with Clerkenwell Design Week, a chance to visit international showrooms and see special exhibitions and presentations from designers and manufacturers. In the free time allotted to them, students may also choose to visit the British Museum, The Tate Modern, the London Eye, and other sites based on their personal interests.

Our second week is spent in Holland in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where we explore Dutch culture from a variety of perspectives. We visit the Stedelijk museum design collection in Amsterdam and Het Nieuwe Instituut design museum in Rotterdam, Droog Design and Moooi showrooms, and contemporary Dutch designers’ studios. We experience the bike-friendly nature of Holland and learn how each historic city has been modernized with cycling in mind. During free time, students can take a canal tour by boat, visit the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, the UNESCO world heritage Kinderdijk windmills or other sites of their choosing.

Our final week is spent in Milan, where the world-famous Milan Furniture Fair was founded in 1961, and the still influential, post-modern Memphis movement began in the early 1980s. We visit the Triennale di Milano museum and Domus Academy for design-related temporary exhibitions as well as the Museum of Science and Industry to see full-scale models of the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. Designer Lawrence Lasky (who worked with Ettore Sottsass in the 1980s) leads sketching workshops to help students develop their creative practice, and a field trip takes us to the Italian Alps and the Alessi Factory, where we observe the manufacturing process and learn how important domestic design is to Italian culture.

Prior to departure, we meet for a three-hour seminar in which we discuss our schedule, travel plans, and expectations for the class and each student begins a research on a historic Italian designer that they will present on the trip. While on tour, course work includes on-site and internet research, relevant readings, short papers, visual essays, and presentations. This course exposes students to several different methods of historic, cultural, and visual research. All students should expect to carefully document the museum, studio, and site visits through photographs, sketches, and journal entries. At the end of each city visit, students present the design lessons they gathered from the past and present of each place.

Although specifically designed for Industrial Design students, this program is equally valuable for other disciplines such as Furniture, Architecture, Interior Design, Visual Studies, Graduate Design and for all students interested in understanding how geography, history and culture influence the design of the systems and structures of our built environment at every scale.

About the Instructor

Art and design historian and curator Mara Holt Skov has been teaching at CCA since 2006, guiding the next generation of designers towards a deeper understanding of the ways that design impacts and is impacted by contemporary culture. Mara's graduate and undergraduate courses often take a material culture approach, making use of her extensive collection of historic design objects as teaching tools to bring design history to life through a variety of "object lessons." She believes that the study of objects has just as much to teach us about history, psychology, and culture as it does about form, materials, and aesthetics.

Mara has traveled extensively throughout Europe, traveling to over 20 countries as part of her art and design research since 1987. In addition, she lived for several years in France and Germany and speaks both French and German.

Learn more about Mara Holt Skov »


Undergraduate Students: Completion of Writing 2 and at least sophomore level by summer 2018, instructor approval
For History of Industrial Design credit: Writing 1 (WRLIT-100, 101 or 103), Intro to the Modern Arts (VISST-108) and Foundation in Critical Studies (CRTSD-150)
For 200-level Social Science/History credit: Foundations in Critical Studies (CRTSD-150) and Writing 1 (WRLIT-100, 101 or 103)
For 300-level Social Science/History credit: Writing 2 (WRLIT-201, 202 or 203), Social Science/History 200 level (SSHIS-200), Junior Standing
For 200-level Visual Studies credit: Intro to the Modern Arts (VISST-108)
Graduate students: Instructor approval

In addition, all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2017-18 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2017 are not eligible to enroll in a 2018 summer study-abroad program.

Course Satisfies

For undergraduate students, this course satisfies a History of Industrial Design requirement for Industrial Design majors, an H&S Elective, a SSHIS 200 or 300 level Elective, or a Visual Studies 200 level Elective.
For graduate students, this course satisfies a Grad-wide Elective.

Program Fee

$5,100 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee:
3 credits, housing, local transportation and transportation between cities, guest artists, field trips, entrance fees, breakfast and one additional meal a day while in Amsterdam, and travel/health insurance travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee:
Airfare to and from Europe, ground transportation to and from airport in Europe, most meals

Related topics
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All CCA summer study-abroad courses (including Brooklyn) are coordinated by the Office of Special Programs.

Questions? Please see Frequently Asked Questions.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Ralls 201

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs